Supreme Court Revives College's Try at Punishing Professor for Remarks

Article excerpt

The Supreme Court has revived a New York college's effort to oust a professor accused of making an anti-Semitic speech as the chairman of its black studies department.

The court set aside on Monday rulings that said City College of New York violated Leonard Jeffries' free-speech rights by removing him as chairman.

The justices ordered the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to restudy Jeffries' case in light of their decision in May that gave public employers greater freedom to fire employees for the things they said.

Jeffries' dispute with City College of New York dates to a speech he gave in 1991 at a black cultural festival in Albany, N.Y. He accused Jews of financing the slave trade and said Jews and the Mafia conspired to belittle blacks in the movies.

Jeffries also made unflattering remarks about some Jewish colleagues.

Officials at the college, which is a member of the state-run City University of New York, removed him from his post as department chairman, but he remained a tenured professor with no loss of pay or benefits.

Jeffries, who is black, sued. A federal judge ordered the school to reinstate him to his three-year post as department chairman. Despite describing parts of Jeffries' speech as "hateful, poisonous and reprehensible," the judge awarded him $360,000 in punitive damages.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that school officials had violated Jeffries' rights and that he should be reinstated. But the appeals court set aside the punitive-damages award and ordered a new trial on that issue.

Past court rulings have established that government employees cannot be disciplined for speaking out on matters of public concern without proof that they impaired the efficiency of government operations. …